Jan 12 2013

Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2012: WHY? – Mumps, Etc


With their baroque/indie/folk leanings and sardonic rap-like witticism is safe to say WHY? are an oddity in today’s musical landscape. The much awaited ‘Mumps, Etc is a first outing since the delicate instrumentations of 2009’s excellent  ‘Eskimo Snow.

While that album remains an absolute pleasure it did signal a slight detour from the sound we had associated with the Californian 3 piece right from their debut. WHY? have definitely not sacrificed their new found pop sensibilities yet  ‘Mumps, Etc‘ displays enough bite to be considered a kindred spirit to their 2008 breakout album ‘Alopecia.

Thom included them in his top-10 explaining “Sometimes words can carry a track on their own and Yoni Wolf‘s lyrics are the sociological poetry of every thoughtful and intelligent down and out. But this record obviously isn’t a poetry reading and WHY?‘s musicianship on ‘Mumps, Etc.‘ is still as exciting, genre-twisting and gritty as their diamond in the rough debut ‘Oaklandazulasylum‘ way back in 2003“.



Mumps, Etc. - Why


Dec 21 2012

WHY? ‘Mumps, Etc.’ reviewed

WHY? are an exultation of larks being shot down with a shotgun. Beautiful melodies, being trounced upon with irresistable beats and soulful yet dirty words.

WHY? are a band that I think it is impossible to be bored with. Possibly one of the most underrated bands out there. A curious mix of analogue and electronic instruments mixed with punchy and catchy bass parts and of course frontman Yoni Wolf‘s inspired, confessional and sociological genius.

Mumps, Etc.‘ is the follow up to 2009’s excellent ‘Eskimo Snow. It fuses the best bits from that album’s folk inspired rap and the grit and darkness from the band’s previous gem album ‘Alopecia‘. Potentially this is the three piece’s most self aware and confessional album with Wolf taking on everything from the misfortune of being thirty plus, being in a touring band and male pattern balding (you read that right)

tracks such as “Paper Hearts“, “Waterlines” and “Bitter Thoughts” convey  how extremely accomplished the band are as musicians writing inspired classical, folk and world music pieces that are accompanied by slow or upbeat pop rhythms that they have reigned in so well, you wondered how this was unique blend was never really thought of before.

I would go as far as to say that the song “Sod In The Seed” has the greatest and most challenging, thought provoking lyrics of any other WHY? song and covers more ground than most other band’s songs do anyway. The wordplay has become so busy in time signature and tight in delivery, lines like “Who am I to judge a mans heart by his yacht wear?” prove Yoni‘s observant and thoughtful style but blast out like a smack in the face to sober you up from your useless daydreaming.

Strawberries” starts like a 1950’s doo-wop song but comes to life in a way that only indie cacophony that is a WHY? song can with swooping xylophone melodies and anthemic lo-fi drum and bass parts and anti-rock star sentiment. Yet again thought it is the lyrics that shine through as utterly original and sound like they would look as beautiful in a bound book – “Itching like an intern with a sunburn, for what a stone unturned covers, I don’t wear rubbers and I don’t werar sunscreen,I want to heat my hide not hide under something“.

I’ll leave you with the line that I couldn’t decipher but sounds just a good without knowing: “From the backs of tent flyers in pen, the guilt-racked liar pretends to confess.

More band’s should take risks like WHY?


Post by TR Wicks



Mumps, Etc. - Why


Mar 30 2010

WHY? live @ Heaven, March 16th

Yoni Wolf of Why? live @ HeavenI hastily cancelled  any plans I had for Tuesday 16th as soon as i found out WHY? Were rollong into town yet again. Regular readers of this blog will know the band have been featured on these pages more than a fair few times.

The band had been outstanding the first time I saw them back in November 2008 when frontman Yoni Wolf boldly announced that Barack Obama would win the American elections, some 5 hours before the whole voting shindig had even kicked off. As far as first concert experiences go this was a special show.

Their next London performance at the Garage was a step up in venue size,though perhaps not in sound quality. In spite of this the band reaffirmed how how well their repertoire translates to the live setting. Songs from the yet to be released ‘Eskimo Snow’ begun trickling into the setlist and the band, with the help of their trusty soundman Snake, made good work or a slightly shoddy sound system on the night.

This show at Heaven is further proof that the californian gang’s popularity is steadily growing. This is made comically clear when I spot a tout outside of the venue trying to sell an overpriced ticket to the bemused members of the band as they walk by. But is this appreciation deserved?

As the band shuffle on to the stage I am reminded of just what makes WHY? so special. Opening with one of my personal favourites, “The Hollows“, the band deliver a burst of energy right from the onset, fully exploiting the addition of Mark Erickson on bass and, in particular, Andrew Broder on guitar to beef up their live lineup.

The added ‘oomph‘ of being a five-piece for this tour means that song structures and instrumentals segments are beautifully embellished.  Yet again it has to be said that soundman Snake does a super job in recreating many of the production tricks from the bands last few albums.

Why? live @ HeavenYoni Wolf appears liberated by the reduction of percussive duties, namely the lack of his habbitual snare drum and xylophone set up. Instead he is free to strut and gesticulate around the stage and in his own oddball way pays homage to his hip-hop roots. The frontman is flanked by the “classic” WHY? lineup consisting of his amazingly skilled brother Josiah on drums and the equally talented Doug McDiarmid on keys and guitars.

Naturally tracks from Eskimo Snow feature heavily and are expanded into new territories and delivered with renewed energy . However, there is plenty of room for the the many highlights from ‘Alopecia‘ with “The Vowels Pt. 2“, the aforementioned “The Hollows” and “These Few Presidents” recieving memorable renditions and sparking mass crowd sing alongs. There is something both eerie and beautiful about a room full of people shouting “even though i haven’t seen you in years, yours is a funeral i’d fly to from anywhere” in unison.

After returning for a brilliant encore and some hilarious karate kicks courtesy of Yoni there is one last treat in stock for this audience. Taking advantage of the presence of Andrew Broder on stage the band deliver an incredible rendition of Hymie’s Basement‘s “21st Century Pop Song” that exceeds even the recorded version of the track, right down to the broken up dual vocals at the end.

WHY? are a band that has constantly evolved over the space of each release whilst simultaneously succeeding in the hard task of remaining fresh and exciting. On the live stage these qualities are delivered with true personality allowing for each melody to be accentuated and magnified for maximum effect. Without fail the band has always delivered memorable performances and as long as their live show doesn’t suffer I see no harm in the venue sizes growing more.


Hymie’s Basement -21st Century Pop Song

Hymie's Basement

WHY? – On Rose Walk, Insomniac


Dec 27 2009

#10 Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2009: WHY? – Eskimo Snow

EskimosnowFor a little while I thought there was no chance this album would ever make this list such was the level dissapointment I felt after a first few listens.

For most of 2008 and the start of this year I waxed lyrical about WHY?‘s masterpiece ‘Alopecia. With the knowledge that the tracks on ‘Eskimo Snow‘ were recorded in the same session I had expected more of the same. Instead the Oakland combo dropped what is essentially a pop album grounded firmly in sweet melodies and layered with impressive multi instrumental structures that aim for somewhere between the Beach Boys and The Velvet Underground.

Alopecia v.2.0 it certainly is not but once i got over my initial hang up I began appreciating these 10 tracks as the natural evolution to some of the more experimental elements I had seen the band perform live. Yoni Wolf‘s vocals appear to be more reflective and slightly subdued here but scratch beneath the surface and you will notice the same cynical lyrics and curious word games at play.


WHY? – Even The Good Wood Gone

Why? - Eskimo Snow

NEXT: #09 Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2009: Florence + The Machine – Lungs

PREVIOUS: #11 Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2009: George Pringle – Salon Des Refuses


Jul 24 2009

WHY? live @ The Garage 06/07/09

whyWalking into the newly re-branded, re-decorated, re-everything-ed ‘Relentless’ Garage in Highbury hideous treble reverberates around the arch, despite the best efforts of support act Munch Munch. My worst apprehension appears to be confirmed; sound has been compromised during redevelopment of the old sweat pit and aesthetics have taken priority. What’s more it has not been re-toilet-ed.

On last year’s US election night I had the privilege of witnessing WHY? reproduce their work complete with every percussive intricacy live at The Scala, in London. When I heard they were returning to play the Garage I jumped at the opportunity to see them once again but as they take to the stage my expectations have been lowered somewhat, more by the shoddy sound than the hazardous lavatories

However, while soundman Snake may not be fooling anybody with that upper-lip bum-fluff, he makes up for youth with ability beyond his years. Each maracas shake, bass note, and syllable rings clear like heaven to an enchanted audience as WHY? storm through opener, ‘The Vowels Pt. 2‘. Good job, Snake.

The Oakland Bay 3 + 1 piece hold up their side of the bargain throughout the evening’s proceedings, mixing their wicked rhythms and magical melodies with front man Yoni Wolf’s dry witted lyrical craftsmanship. ‘Song of the Sad Assassin’ has most people chanting its signature line “Billy the kid did what he did then he died” while ‘Rubber Traits’ has us ‘wee-oo’ing away. Throw in a couple of beers and you have the potion for a top night out.

Seeing WHY? perform is to respect their musicianship more deeply. There is much to be said for witnessing four artists multitask quite so proficiently without resorting to samples. If there is to be one criticism it must be of Yoni’s occasional indifference to vocal tuning; that or tonight’s puzzling omission of ‘Fatalist Palmistry’.

As the band return to the stage for their encore they treat us to a rendition of the beautifully melodic ‘This Blackest Purse’ from upcoming album ‘Eskimo Snow’. The less patient amongst us hope for further sneak previews but instead make do with a couple of well performed favourites before departing into the early July night with smiles plastered over our faces.

It was only last year when a certain Cougar Microbes scribe put me onto the much hyped alt-hip-hop-indie-rock band. Since then I have fallen in love with 2005’s ‘Elephant Eyelash’ and 2008’s ‘Alopecia’ and await ‘Eskimo Snow’ with baited beer breath.


Guest post by Kenny The Emperor.




Why? – The Blackest Purse